Making Athlete Decisions by Jason Reindl, ChPC
Being an athlete is not easy. Balancing everything for school such as homework and preparing for projects can take up a large part of the day. Throw in time spent being a young adult with friends, family, and possibly even a part time job and the day gets even busier when practices and performance enhancement initiatives are incorporated. As such balance, smart decisions, and an overall understanding of what it means to be a 24-hour athlete are needed.
In most sport programs coaches and athletes show up and two hours later they leave. While amazing things happen under this type of programming it also leaves much to be addressed. How has the athlete been educated in terms of nutrition, hydration, sleep, wellness, and overall life balance? Are they making choices that reflect their athletic goals and aspirations or are they just moving throughout the day with no real forethought? Reflecting on my own athletic experiences and my time working with high school aged athletes I know that it isn’t easy. But there are things that we can do to improve the life balance of being a performance focused athlete.
Sleep – This is one of the hardest and/or easiest items of the young athlete’s life to positively impact. 8-10 hours a night is the goal and while this can seem daunting it can make a world of difference in terms of fatigue, injury, illness, academic retention, and an overall mental state. Individuals are recommended to get to bed at a consistent time frame so that consistent sleep patterns can be established. Figure out what time you need to wake up in the morning and count back to what time you should be going to bed and then try to develop a routine that starts 30-45 minutes before that bed time. If you need more sleep add on some more time but listen to your body and how it responds. Develop a consistent pre-sleep routine and having a quality sleep environment in terms of reduction of screen time, teeth brushing, relaxing reading, in a cool, dark, and quiet environment can help this process.
Hydration – Another area that can be very simple but at times very difficult is staying hydrated throughout the day. If we wanted to average eight hours of sleep per night we would not want to sleep three hours one night and then and then thirteen hours the next and the same is true for hydration. We want to stay consistently hydrated throughout the day. This means anywhere from 500-1000 ml per 60/90 minutes but it is very individual. So start by drinking 500ml per hour that you are awake and go from there doing so will help maintain positive fluid balance in the body, remove wastes, and help the muscle tissues in terms of recovery and readiness between sessions.
Nutrition – Our North American lifestyle is not helping here so preparation and planning is definitely needed. We want to eat wholesome foods that are filled with nutritious energy sources and many of our favorite restaurants and fast food establishments certainly make this more difficult. We want to make sure we are fueling our bodies in order to perform at the level we want it to. Are you fueling to be a local athlete or a national athlete? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, dairy, and water is the foundation of this performance nutrition. Smaller and more regularly spaced meals are again more beneficial than three huge meals during the day but I will take quality with reduced timing over timing and reduced quality any day of the week. Even something like flying which can have significant nutritional effects can be mitigated with some planning and a trip to the grocery store the day before. Supplements are something that are all the rage but with a little bit of planning and decision making they are usually not required.
Saying NO – It is quite easy but it is very difficult but learn to say no. Learn to make the hard decision that will help you. The decision that will keep you healthy. The decision that will keep your grades up. The decision that while isn’t always the most fun will help you become the best you that you can be.
Focus – Everyone has so many things going on in our days and while we all multi-task to an extent but no matter how good we think we are we are not doing lots of things well but rather doing everything at a subpar level. Trying to study and do homework while snapchatting and texting is not a positive choice. Take 45 minutes to focus on one thing. Turn everything off and put yourself in a position where you can focus on that one thing. Then take 15 minutes to chat and respond to messages. You’ll accomplish more in the long run. Put the phone on silent and do not disturb and put it in another room and focus on your one task and then take your break. Create a schedule and map out your day. Make yourself aware of the key periods of time to work on and focus on certain things then just follow the plan. You don’t need to decide them what you are doing as you are just following the plan.
Practice – The same comment on focus holds true for practice. What is your level of focus during practice? Are you focused on practice or on homework, school, friends, or other aspects of your life when you are trying to become a better athlete? Are you giving your undivided attention and energy to the period of time that you have made time for to make yourself a better athlete or are you cutting your training short by again trying to spread your focus? Practice is just as much mental as it is physical. Learning how to focus, reflect on exercises, repetitions, and develop a greater understanding of the sport are all goals during the practice period. This requires your focus and attention. I recommend to athletes that they put their phones on silent and away and when they walk into the training venue. This is when they are making the commitment to be fully present for the session and doing so by their actions. They are making a commitment to focus for a period of time from warm up to main elements of the workout to cooldown to be present.
Life isn’t easy. It is hard. Student-athletes have so many demands but preparing, planning, and making decisions ahead of time that can help them is just one way that they help themselves. Not only will this help them in management of their daily lives but all of the elements listed above will help them in their pursuit of their athletic goals. After all of the above becomes routine and a part of the student-athlete’s lifestyle they will then be able to expand into other areas that enhance recovery and regeneration and the pursuit of performance.